This is the final story in our three-part series of how Port Macquarie-Hastings is relatively well-placed for water storage when compared with other cities and towns across the state and Australia. What does the future of water use look like?
Read part 2 - Time to wake up - water is not an unlimited resource
How do you feel about drinking recycled treated water? No?
Okay, but what about skolling a big glass of treated urine?
The future of water use - and how often we reuse the same mouthful of water - is evolving.
Eventually, countries - including Australia - will have to address how we can arrest the diminishing water resource and learn how to get more out of that one mouthful of water.
And while we won't be drinking recycled treated urine anytime soon, it is on the horizon.
One of the leading countries in the world for shortening the tap to tap cycle of water is Singapore.
That's where Murray Thompson visited in his capacity as water supply manager for Port Macquarie-Hastings Council in the early 1980s.
Murray went on to be named the 2007 National Local Government Engineering Medal winner for his ground-breaking work on the Port Macquarie Reclaimed Water Scheme and his contribution to the developing the Hastings District Water Supply Augmentation Scheme.
He was the driving force behind the delivery of $120 million worth of capital works, including the design and construction of the Cowarra Off Creek Storage Dam, Koree Island Pumping Station, the Three Villages Water Treatment Plant Project, the Wauchope Water Treatment Plant and the Port Macquarie Reclaimed Water Treatment Plant.
"I went to Singapore to see what they were doing in the reclaimed water space," he said. "And they were doing everything; reusing treated sewage effluent, capturing stormwater in huge quantities along with utilising desalination plants.
"If you want to see the future for water use, go to Singapore. They are providing (water) security to the population.
"Their process started as an economic issue - which was the driving force - but now they have realised they can be more sustainable."
"The Singapore Public Utilities Board has a long-term vision and a plus 50-year plan to both develop additional water resources and adapt to ongoing climatic changes. Imagine if we could achieve this in Australia."
Closer to home, Orange is capturing nearly all its stormwater and utilising that as part of its water supply.
Importantly, the education campaign around the stormwater project included ensuring residents did not throw rubbish that could end up in the stormwater system.
Murray says that combined initiative means you are removing some of the problems at the source.
Over in Western Australia, that inexhaustible resource called groundwater is getting a top up with recycled treated water being pumped back into the water table where it will eventually - in tens of thousands of years - be reused.
But sometimes it doesn't work.
This is not an advertising campaign that fits neatly into a three year election cycle.Murray Thompson
"Toowoomba failed in its bid to introduce changed water use habits because politicians got involved trying to implement a quick fix solution," Murray said.
"They pushed the project along because they wanted to spend money reasonably quickly.
"This is not an advertising campaign that fits neatly into a three year election cycle.
"You have to take people along with the discussion. It is important to remember that you are changing people's (ingrained) water use habits and that will take decades.
"You must have organisational commitment and capacity along with a community's desire to go down that path.
"You may start someone in kindergarten but have them accepting the program (of using recycled water) when they enter university."
He said the state of the art Cowarra Dam project had that organisational support along with social acceptance.
"We took people on a journey," he added.
Murray says there are many exciting avenues currently being explored in relation to ways to increase how often we use that same drop of water.
Desalination plants - including mobile plants - are often held up as one community-accepted way of doing just that. But they require enormous amounts of electricity.
"If you can find the energy source, you can drop a container anywhere and starting pumping desalinated water straight into the distribution system," Murray said.
There is also research at the molecular level to see how we might be able to use electrical charges to remove salt particles out of water. If they crack that concept, where you can hook a battery to a glass of salt water and turn it into fresh water, it would be "monumental for humanity".
"There is also work being done in finding ways to decontaminate water without using all the physical processes as well," he said.
"So there is a lot of exciting science going on at this level around the world in relation to water quality.
"We are also talking about water availability too in different locations throughout Australia. This will continue to be problematic.
"The way we have used water in the past 200 years cannot continue. It is not sustainable and we need to come up with different ways of harnessing water when it is available and having it available when it is not."
Part of that solution will be recycling.
Murray said we need to use water again and also convince people we can treat contaminated water, no matter where it comes from - stormwater or treated sewage effluent.
Australia has lots of sources of water that we currently don't touch because we have a closed mindset.
The future, says Murray, will eventually see water go from the tap back to the tap "because the water cycle is just that, the water cycle".
He says the future will mean more water recycling, more end of pipe connectivity and creating a smaller water cycle (from tap to tap).
There is too much focus on the amount of water (storage) we have and not enough concentration on the quality of the water.
There are many challenges that we will face because of the things that we have done to our physical environment that have come back to bite us.Murray Thompson
Another emerging issue will be the amount of micro-plastics and other contaminants entering the water system and oceans.
Research suggests that these micro-plastics are already finding their way into our drinking water, forming contaminants that can latch onto water molecules making recycling water more difficult.
"There are many challenges that we will face because of the things that we have done to our physical environment that have come back to bite us," Murray said.
"We have these known challenges but I think there will be other emerging issues into the future.
"We need to come up with some clever ways to overcome these problems."
"Every bit of toilet water is usable," he added.
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